The Spiritual Legacy of our Ancestors

When someone passes away, they leave behind their property to be distributed amongst their descendants, kin and other parties. I for one have seen and heard of a gazillion disputes that arise amongst family members over the belongings of their ancestors.

Recently, I wrote a few blog posts about the Hindu practise of Shradh. It is believed that during this time, three generations of our ancestors return to earth in subtle form. What would they say if they saw you now? What would their reaction be if they saw what you did with everything they left behind? Would they be proud? Or would they be appalled?

Did you honour what they created or did you squander it?

In Hinduism, there is a concept called Pitru Dosh, which is often interpreted to mean ‘curse’ of the ancestors. After mulling over this topic for a couple of weeks, I do not believe that it is a ‘curse’ so much as it is a karmic sanction. Pitru Dosh is created when one breaches one’s duty. We have a responsibility towards our ancestors. To receive an inheritance is not merely about property and assets, but also comes with a corresponding spiritual legacy that includes their vocation, their belief system, and their way of life. 

In most traditional societies, the eldest son received this inheritance and the responsibility that came along with it. For a long time in history, women were largely excluded – and even today, despite changes in the legal framework, old attitudes persist in practise.

Although we don’t like to think about it, we all know we are going to pass away someday. And we know that we will not be able to take our possessions with us. In light of that, I think it’s not what our ancestors leave for us in terms of possessions that really matters.

It is how they live on in us through their genetic patterning and teachings that forms the core of their spiritual legacy on earth. 

When I started my business Mith Books, it was my great-grandfather Mancharram Nagindas’ teachings that came back to me. He passed away 19 years ago, but I can still feel his spirit reverberating through me. Born into poverty and orphaned in his teens, my great-grandfather built his business empire in Singapore from scratch. He lived through two World Wars and growing up he told me many stories – even though it would be decades before I finally understood them. 

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As I navigated the uncertainties of starting and building a business, I remembered sitting on my great-grandfather’s knee as he taught me all about the world of commerce. At the time, he was in his eighties and I was a kid. He was in textiles and I’m in education. But his teachings are timeless. Every time I found myself stuck in a rut or facing a difficult decision, his words would come back to me. He always spoke to me in Gujarati and I can hear his advice clearly in my mother tongue, reminding me of who I am and who I need to be. 

I now believe that when a certain vocation travels through our lineage via a great-grandfather and grandfather and then you find yourself on the same path – any deluded sense of ‘me’ and ‘mine’ vanishes. It is the same ‘spirit’ travelling through time and distance and passed on to me through my lineage. I embody what has gone before as I learn, evolve and pass the torch to future generations.

It is Santana Dharma – the earliest and the everlasting. That is the spiritual legacy of our ancestors. It belonged to us well before we came into this world, and it will still live on when we pass away. We are a part of them and they are a part of us.

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When Hindus perform yajna or rituals, the priests ask for one’s gotra. In English, gotra translates to ‘clan’ and refers to one’s patrilineal ancestry. On a personal level, I’ve often found myself wondering what it all means seeing as how I am a woman in what has and continues to be a man’s world. In Hinduism as it is commonly practised, a woman’s gotra is transferred to the husband’s after marriage. The concept of changing gotra boggles my mind to no end. 

Over the years I’ve heard numerous women lament about the challenges of working in male-dominated professions. I am no stranger to these challenges. I’ve encountered sexual harassment in the workplace by both senior and junior staff members. All kinds of unsavoury behaviour to remind me that I am a vulnerable woman and not an educated professional. And it doesn’t end at the workplace. Women have to contend with these issues in their personal lives as well.

I won’t lie. It hurts. Of course it does. 

That’s when my great-grandfather’s teachings come back to me. Dealing with injustice and unfairness is one of the bitter truths of life. We must fight and be willing to deal with these hard truths head on. And yes, it’s going to hurt from time to time. But you’ll get up again and keep going. 

It’s in your blood. 

Recently, I found many old photographs of me sitting on my great-grandfather’s knee as a little girl. I smile as I remember that little girl. As his spirit gazes down on mine during shradh, I know he is proud of the woman I have become. 

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Author: Dipa

Founder of Mith Books

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